For the past four years, it has been my privilege to sit on the judging panel for the Tes FE Awards. The shortlist for the 2018 awards was published this week.
I also do the shortlisting for the FE Teacher of the Year category. The judging and then the awards ceremony are highlights of my professional year. It’s a cliché, perhaps, but it truly is inspiring to read of all the fantastic work being done by skilled and dedicated professionals all over the country, in all FE contexts.
The criteria used by the judging panel to choose the winner are simple and clear: we are looking for people who have made a tremendous difference to their learners; can demonstrate commitment to the profession and their own professional development; and have a positive impact on their colleagues, as well as on learners beyond their own classroom or institution.
'A real concern'
But here’s the thing that is worrying me. There have always been applications – and an increase of them this year – that rest mainly on the depiction of the nominee as some sort of force of nature, pouring supernatural energy and time into working miracles. The number of applications that proudly recounted how Sally spent her weekend and evenings devising extra support materials, or how Max gave up his holidays, was a real concern.
FE Teacher of the Year is a very prestigious award. People will look at the winner and see what is being lauded in our profession. I believe it is very unhealthy to hold up those who throw their whole lives into their teaching as being the model all should aspire to. Yes, I respect those dedicated souls who give up their evenings, weekends and holidays for their learners. But there is a bigger picture.
In FE – as with all teaching – we are experiencing a very difficult period with recruitment and retention. Workload is a worry. Mental health and teacher wellbeing are a concern. The pace of change is relentless. We expect more and more from our teachers and their managers. But the most excellent teacher for me is one who changes learners’ life chances through the application of evidence-informed practice, professional skill and personal care – and then goes home to their life in the evening.
'We don’t need another hero'
We must not hold out the “hero” model of teaching as a sustainable one, or one to be widely emulated. That way we not only drive teachers away from our profession by creating impossible standards, we also risk letting policymakers off the hook – as they may believe they can squeeze more and more out of the existing workforce by asking teachers’ home lives to take the strain.
I want a model of FE teaching that is excellent, professional, collegiate and sustainable. We don’t need another hero.
David Russell is chief executive of the Education and Training Foundation
This is an edited version of an article in the 15 December edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full story here. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here. Tes magazine is available at all good newsagents.